In a new take on the concept of the one man show, it is Mark Lockyer himself who comes to tell us that the house is open, there are free tea and biscuits available onstage, and please could we sit near the front, because it works better that way? We’ll understand later.

Living with the Lights On is brave and honest, reflecting Lockyer’s lived experience of, in his words, a circle of mental ill health. To say that we, as an audience, are drawn in from the very beginning is a gross understatement.

Using nothing but a blank stage and his own body, Mark depicts his first meeting with the devil beside the River Avon, then tells in forensic, excruciating detail, the experience of forgetting his lines onstage at the RSC. As events escalate, he catalogues missed second and third chances, wrong turns, and an unravelling that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered in a similar way. Of particular poignancy are the scenes where Mark embodies unsympathetic professionals, and the two times he reports that ‘there weren’t enough beds available on the psychiatric ward’ for him to be kept safe.

The vocal range of the performance is almost orchestral in its range of dynamics, timbres and textures. Lockyer doesn’t need a set any more than he needs a cast – he creates a story rich with scenery and characters using nothing but his own voice and the space around him. It is no surprise to learn that he has been classically trained. The devil’s American accent, characters with Midlands accents, London accents, Greek accents, Irish accents – all are pitch perfect. Lockyer drops us into the middle of conversations and we still know which voice is his and which belongs to someone else, because of the sheer quality of his performance.

In addition, Lockyer becomes each character: morphing into a cast of twenty. His rendition of one person towards the end of the play was breathtaking in its pathos: the room took on a special kind of silence while we watched this tiny, important insight. Others were drawn to comical effect – his study of what a woman looks like when she is flirting is laugh out loud funny and pinpoint accurate.

It was visible to us, sitting in the front row as instructed, that Lockyer was physically exhausted by his performance. It is the sort of play that leaves you speechless and reflective. If you have suffered with similar symptoms, you will realise what people mean when they talk about the importance of seeing your own story reflected back to you. It was an honour to experience this journey in such capable hands, and to realise, with each unfolding, that Lockyer’s recovery is in evidence right in front of us, as he once again owns a stage.

by Stella Hervey Birrell

Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.